Woody plant species store nonstructural carbohydrates (NSCs) for many functions. While known to buffer against fluctuations in photosynthetic supply, such as at night, NSC stores are also thought to buffer against environmental extremes, such as drought or freezing temperatures by serving as either back-up energy reserves or osmolytes. However, a clear picture of how NSCs are shaped by climate is still lacking. Here, we update and leverage a unique global database of seasonal NSC storage measurements to examine whether maximum total NSC stores and the amount of soluble sugars are associated with clinal patterns in low temperatures or aridity, indicating they may confer a benefit under freezing or drought conditions. We examine patterns using the average climate at each study site and the unique climatic conditions at the time and place in which the sample was taken. Altogether, our results support the idea that NSC stores act as critical osmolytes. Soluble Sugars increase with both colder and drier conditions in aboveground tissues, indicating they can plastically increase a plants' tolerance of cold or arid conditions. However, maximum total NSCs increased, rather than decreased, with average site temperature and had no relationship to average site aridity. This result suggests that the total amount of NSC a plant stores may be more strongly determined by its capacity to assimilate carbon than by environmental stress. Thus, NSCs are unlikely to serve as reservoir of energy. This study is the most comprehensive synthesis to date of global NSC variation in relation to climate and supports the idea that NSC stores likely serve as buffers against environmental stress. By clarifying their role in cold and drought tolerance, we improve our ability to predict plant response to environment.
- nonstructural carbohydrates (NSCs)
- soluble sugars
- Carbohydrate Metabolism